Thursday, September 1, 2011

How to Fight Homesickness

You’re about to hear details of something I like to pretend never happened: the time I got homesick in Stirling.

In 2008 I spent four months studying in Stirling, Scotland.  At the time, I was inexperienced as a traveler; apart from a 3-week trip to Europe, I had never been further than 60 miles from my hometown alone.  I was excited to travel solo for the first time. Nonetheless, I was apprehensive about leaving a boyfriend, my family, and my friends behind.

Hanging out with Stevie helped me get over my homesickness.

These apprehensions spread through me like cancer from the minute I stepped off the plane in Scotland.  At the airport, I ordered a coffee and couldn’t understand the barista’s accent; I thought to myself “why the hell did I sign up for this?”  My negative attitude did nothing to help my situation. By the month’s end, I sank into a depression and missed out on many fantastic opportunities.

Homesickness like this is utter misery.  During the day I struggled to muster the courage to attend classes.  At night I often cried until I exhausted myself and fell asleep. I wouldn’t have given travel another chance if I hadn’t made an awesome friend in Stirling.

When I got to know Stevie and became comfortable in my surroundings I found strength to get through lonely times.  Unfortunately, I wasted months feeling isolated. Now I often wish I’d known these ways to combat homesickness before it took over my life:

Seek out human connection. Being with others to distracts you, and reminds you you’re not alone. One of the greatest things about travel is the people you’ll meet, so get out there and hear someone’s story!

….but also save time for yourself.  Often, travel involves lots of rushing around, which is very stressful.  Homesickness might just be a symptom of this stress, so schedule in a little time for a walk, a quiet cup of coffee, or a good book.

Indulge in familiar comforts.  For me, this means making pancakes for dinner on a Saturday night or picking up a Harry Potter book.  Doing something you love from  home puts you at ease when you feel uncomfortable.

…but don’t forget to try something new.  Travel is all about new experiences.  Trying a new activity consumes a person so there’s no room on the brain for homesickness. Have you ever heard of a person moping while bungee jumping or trying sushi for the first time?

Set a goal.  Whether it’s to see every sight featured in The Da Vinci code, climb all the Adirondack high peaks, or to take 50 nice photos, decide to do something and write it down.  When you commit to an official goal, you become motivated to get moving.

…but occasionally be spontaneous. Spontaneity is a traveler’s privilege, so take advantage of it!  If I’m homesick, I sometimes like to ask myself “other than going home, what would I like to do right now,” and then just do it.  Just yesterday I felt overwhelmed, so I followed a whim Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens. It worked as an instant destressor.

Finally, stay healthy.  Eat fruits and vegetables, get plenty of sleep, and make time for exercise.  When you’re physically well, it’s easier to stay mentally well, and when you’re well fed, rested, and fit, it’s easier to follow the tips above.

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